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John Pricci

HorseRaceInsider.com executive editor John Pricci has over three decades of experience as a thoroughbred racing public handicapper and was an award-winning journalist while at New York Newsday for 18 years.

John has covered 14 Kentucky Derbies and Preaknesses, all but three Breeders' Cups since its inception in 1984, and has seen all but two Belmont Stakes live since 1969.

Currently John is a contributing racing writer to MSNBC.com, an analyst on the Capital Off-Track Betting television network, and co-hosts numerous handicapping seminars. He resides in Saratoga Springs, New York.

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Sunday, November 17, 2013


Technology Takes Time, But Time Has Come for TRAKUS For All


SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, November 16, 2013—Andy Serling, I owe you a drink, possibly two.

NYRA, I owe you nothing and, in a sense, you owe me.

No matter how Serling's strong personality rubs you, the right way or wrong, he’s worth his weight in dollars. He certainly was this past Saturday.

By doing his homework, Serling helped me to make a few dollars. By NYRA’s foot-dragging on the installation of TRAKUS technology at Aqueduct, they cost me big time.

The wager involved was the late Pick 4 at Aqueduct on Saturday. I was alive to a single, the favorite in the finale.

(Indeed, the Jimmy Toner trained Sheldon was the only horse covered in the Pick 6, but I digress).

In addition to the single, I also was alive to a few smaller sub tickets in the 9th race. But Sheldon was keying a $2 P4 ticket worth $1300+. I had two of the 50-Cent variety.

In his pre-race prattle, Serling informed bettors that there was a discrepancy in the final running time for the 5th race on the Belmont Park inner turf course, October 14.

The official time listed in the past performances was 1:43.06. TRAKUS data had the time as 1:41.25.

What's 9 lengths between bettors, more or less?

Three horses in Saturday’s 9th race were coming out of the Oct. 14th race at Belmont: Smooth Daddy (14-1), Patent (6-1) and Breakeven Analysis (8-1). None were among my smaller-ticket sub horses. What to do?

Since the prices were good, I boxed all three in exactas and keyed them in 50-Cent TRIs with Sheldon second and third. I felt comfortable that I had any eventuality covered.

Patent won at $14.60 and longshot Smooth Daddy was second, with Sheldon finishing third. The $2 exacta paid $179.50. The 50-Cent TRI returned $181.50. It saved a would-be horrible day.

TRAKUS is expensive, but not as expensive as losing customers. How often do these inaccuracies occur? I shudder to think, but this very likely was no isolated instance.

All major tracks need the new technology, one that also helps bettors identify where their horse are running at a glance, particularly useful in large fields.

It’s a difference of opinion that makes a horse race; agreed. But when it comes to the races themselves, a successful old-school handicapper once taught me that “running time is the only absolute truth in the game.”

Incidentally, I earlier keyed Sheldon first and second in Dime Supers to optimize my play. I forgot all about using the three “faster horses” as post time drew near. That’s on me.

Of course, I had used both the 4th and 5th place finishers on my original ticket which were indicated on my BRIS P4 product. The Dime Super paid $271.20.

Just another day at the office.

Lower Pick Six Cost Would Be a HiT

When the recent press release arrived stating that Churchill Downs had received permission to offer a 50-Cent Pick Six, I became excited, parimutuelly speaking.

At last, a bet that, in relative terms, allows the average player to compete with their deep-pocketed parimutuel brethren.

I was about to check the takeout rates on the HANA site then thought that I should read the fine print. That’s when I learned that the entire pool, like the 10-Cent Rainbow Six at Gulfstream Park, is distributed only when there’s a single winner.

Parenthetically, while the initial takeout is high, at least the Dime Six is affordable for many more players. Even non-Jackpot results for six winners relatively pay very well.

Even though professionals abhor high takeout rates, I know whales that make small wagers into the Rainbow 6—often less than $50—because of the real possibility of a high three-figure, or low four-figure, for small money.

Businesswise, there’s no evidence that the Rainbow 6 cannibalizes other pools. But even a 50-Cent Pick Six can be very costly. In their zeal to build carryovers, racetracks do themselves a disservice by adversely affecting player liquidity.

Some time back here at HRI, “Players Up” contributor Indulto posited a concept that is worth revisiting in light of the burgeoning Pick Six Jackpot trend, with an assist from “Roger,” an HRI regular.

By consensus, then, some readers have embraced the thinking behind the new wager, dubbed the HIT-64, its parameters meant to compensate for the advantage deep-pocketed bettors have in Pick Six pools.

Roger promised that he will resume playing the multi-race wager when a major circuit venue offers a P6 with a $1 minimum at a $64 maximum per ticket. Before you can say that won’t work, think about it:

Obviously, whales could buy 50 $64-tickets if they wished. But by limiting the amount spent on any one ticket, most if not all big players would find it arduous and time consuming.

More significantly, by assignment the same economic weight at a maximum cost of $64 per ticket, handicapping the races into tiered preferences becomes highly inefficient from an investment perspective.

In terms of new player recruitment and promotion to the marginal, recreational player, examples of how the player can win a lot for a little is still the best marketing tool.

And one more very important aspect of the new proposed Pick Six: No carryovers! Of course, this will make it a non-starter in many jurisdictions that value instant-handle over fan loyalty.

Further, there should be Pick Five consolations when the Pick Six is hit, but the consolations stop right there; no P4 consolations when there is no perfect P6. The split should be 75% to P6 winners, 25% to P5 conso holders. It’s called liquidity.

Of course, the only way to attract interest from the get-go, seeding the pool notwithstanding—and even if the track guarantees minimum handle, is to make it a low takeout wager.

Multiple wagers seem to be the only ones on which tracks will offer a lower takeout; 15% seems to be the consensus at this point. Additionally, it’s an easier sell to the wagering board and the state house rubber-stampers.

A $64 maximum ticket rewards superior handicapping, not money-management skills that are easier when dollars are in bigger supply. Even the most successful P4 practitioners will admit that the small player has virtually no chance.

So, reward talented handicappers and keep more players in the game. Perhaps a HIT-64, with a 50-Cent minimum, is an even better way to go.



Written by John Pricci

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